Sitting on the sand under the hot sun, I watched my friends messing about on surfboards, while I remained on the beach, covered in a big, baggy T-shirt, feeling awkward. I was on holiday in Thailand with a group of friends, and the previous day we’d decided to take out a paddle boat. From the very beginning, though, it hadn’t gone well. I’d struggled to even get into the boat as it bobbed up and down in the shallow water, and then, just as I’d managed to shuffle onto my seat, the boat suddenly sank like a stone and tipped to one side, toppling me out and hurting my foot in the process.
Now, as I watched my friends having the time of their lives in the surf, it wasn’t just my foot that was causing me pain, it was my injured pride, too. To top it off, some of the locals we’d met on holiday had nicknamed me ‘big boy’. While I was sure they meant no harm, it made me feel even more self-conscious about my size.
I felt uncomfortable for the entire holiday, but once I got home, I stubbornly put it to the back of my mind. My best friend at work, Laura, suggested I go with her to our local Slimming World group. At first, I resisted – ‘It’ll be full of older ladies and no men!’ – but Laura was determined. Eventually, her powers of persuasion worked and I gave in, relieved to know I’d have a friend to walk into group with.
As it turned out, I really enjoyed it. There was another man there, and everyone was so welcoming and supportive that it wouldn’t have mattered if there hadn’t been. I came away feeling pretty excited about it all. My initial enthusiasm didn’t last, though. I was 22 years old and, at the time, my social life generally revolved around going out and drinking with my mates.
The more I drank, the less I cared about what I was eating and the more likely it was that I’d get a late-night takeaway
The result was disappointment after disappointment every time I stood on the scales and, after a few weeks, I stopped going to group altogether.
By Christmas Day 2017, it became clear where my decision to leave Slimming World had got me. I was so excited about the new haul of clothes that I’d just unwrapped (mainly from my mum, Cheryl), but as I tried on each XL jumper or T-shirt, I noticed how they stretched uncomfortably across my frame. Eventually, I found one top that fitted perfectly – and it was a size XXL. That wasn’t a size I’d ever pictured myself wearing.
Gazing at the discarded T-shirts scattered around my bedroom, I felt so annoyed with myself. What was really bugging me was that, not long ago, I’d actually taken a positive step by joining Slimming World – but then I hadn’t followed it through.
So, with the dawn of 2018 came a new-found determination to return to group and, this time, stick to the plan. Laura rejoined with me and we started where we left off – although in my case, I was even heavier than I’d been last time, weighing in at 18st 9lbs. ‘Imagine how much weight I could have lost by now,’ I said to Laura. ‘Don’t worry,’ she reassured me, ‘the important thing is that you’re here – it’ll be different this time.’
I’d recently left home and was living in Hertfordshire with my friend, Esnart. She was really supportive from the word go, keeping an eye out for times when I reached for something high Syn and asking, ‘Are you sure you want that?’. Nine times out of 10, the answer was no – it was purely out of habit – and I’d put it back. And on the occasions when I really did fancy a bar of chocolate or packet of crisps, I was able to go ahead and enjoy it, using my Syns.
One thing I discovered quite quickly was how much I enjoyed experimenting with different foods and recipes. Fruit and vegetables were starting to interest me in a way they never had before, and I was buzzing with every new dish I made. Sweet and sour chicken, lamb curry, noodle stir-fry… every fakeaway you can think of!
I did have a slight panic when Laura stopped going to group and I had to brave going on my own. At first, it felt hard to walk into the room without having my friend there with me, but I soon discovered that, in fact, everyone there was my friend, and the support I received from them every week really lifted me up.
Not long afterwards, I reconnected with an old friend from school, Becky. Before long, our friendship started to become something more, and I decided to ask her out on a date. Then I found myself worrying about telling her I was a Slimming World member. Would she judge me? But if I didn’t tell her, how would I keep it a secret when we went out for dinner and drinks together?
So I’d invite her over to my place and cook dinner for us, making spaghetti bolognese, or lean steak with home-made chips and peppercorn sauce with lots of veg, never letting on that they were actually Food Optimising recipes. And when we did decide to go out, I’d suggest the restaurant – having checked out the menu first!
After a few months, I slipped into conversation that I’d been losing weight, and when Becky asked how, it felt like the right time to tell her my secret.
‘I’m a Slimming World member,’ I said. She smiled and replied, ‘So am I’. We laughed as we realised I’d been worrying over nothing.
From then on, we went to group together. This meant that now I had two people cheering me on and helping to keep me on track – Becky and Esnart. I’d even bet Esnart that I’d give her a pound coin for every pound of weight I put back on! Their support was incredible, and I found that the more people I told about my weight loss goal, the more help and encouragement I got from my family and friends.
My weight was steadily continuing to drop and I was feeling great – but my journey hadn’t been without its bumps in the road. After my 23rd birthday week in August 2018, for example, I’d gained 8½lbs. I couldn’t help feeling disheartened, but I soon got remotivated by telling myself, ‘It’s OK to have a setback, the important thing is to get straight back on track’. Besides, I didn’t want to give Esnart any more of my pound coins!
With the support of our Consultant, Ann, and Becky cheering me on, the weight came off again – and I found another tool to keep me motivated. I opened an Instagram account (@sw_fray) dedicated to my Slimming World journey and began posting before and after photos, along with pictures of the meals I was making. I was amazed at the response! Before long, I had over 1,000 followers, and was getting really positive messages from people I didn’t know, asking about my cooking and complimenting me on how I looked. It was exactly the boost I needed to keep my weight loss heading in the right direction.
Moving back to Luton to live with Mum and my brother, Mitchell, led to me embarking on a whole new social life – centred around the gym! Three or four times a week I went with Esnart, and then I started going with Becky and her sister, too. Out of nowhere came this drive I never knew I had and, for the first time in my life, I could feel my stomach muscles. That was quite a breakthrough – I’d never noticed them before!
The combination of Food Optimising and Body Magic saw me drop a few more pounds and I soon reached my target weight of 11st 9lbs. I felt fitter and leaner than I ever imagined I could, and the best thing was having my girlfriend, Becky, by my side – she’s lost 5st and looks incredible, although she’s always been beautiful to me!
In the June after I reached target, getting organised for a trip to Bali with Esnart and my friends, I pulled out my old holiday clothes – most of which I hadn’t worn since that trip to Thailand three years earlier – and discovered I could fit both my legs into one side of my shorts. That was hardly surprising, given that my waist size had dropped from 46ins to 32ins. ‘Looks like it’s a completely new holiday wardrobe for me!’ I said, grinning.
And that September, Becky and I had a brilliant, sun-filled holiday in Morocco. Far from feeling self-conscious about my size, I felt positively proud as I took my top off and walked confidently around the pool. That carefree week banished any uncomfortable memories of Thailand, and I came home feeling on top of the world. Losing weight has given me such a confidence boost and though I’ve always loved life, it’s taught me how to love myself, too. My days of hiding under baggy XXL T-shirts are over for good!
Breakfast Full English with eggs, sausages, bacon and hash browns fried in oil.
Lunch A meal deal with a ready-made sandwich, crisps and a fizzy drink.
Dinner Chicken dippers and curly fries with mayonnaise, or half a pizza and chips.
Snacks A triple-chocolate-chip cookie, cheesecake or crisps.